On behalf of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour (NBFL), and its 38,000 affiliated members, I would like to extend my best wishes to all workers in New Brunswick for a happy, healthy and safe new year.
I wanted to take this opportunity thank and recognize our working heroes. Health care and front-line workers who have and continue to work to keep us healthy, safe and to provide us with the essential services that we need during the ongoing pandemic.
The pandemic continues to expose an ongoing workforce crisis in our province which has been affecting the public services available to New Brunswickers. Rather than address this challenge by improving wages and working conditions, the New Brunswick government has achieved a large surplus on the backs of public sector workers.
New Brunswick public sector workers are among the lowest paid in the country. Over a decade of stagnant wages has resulted in a recruitment and retention crisis in most Departments, particularly in our schools, health care, and mental health services. For example, in July there were over 850 nursing jobs vacancies in the province. Further compounding this crisis is the fact that the provincial government did not access all of the federal funds available during the pandemic for wage top ups.
I am proud to see that 2021 was characterized by the mass mobilization of public sector workers in New Brunswick to secure fair and equitable wages. Several CUPE locals, representing over 20,000 workers negotiated fair wage increases with their employer, after 17 days of job action. New Brunswick nurses recently overwhelmingly voted in favor of strike action. Some bargaining units have reached a tentative agreement. For others, negotiations are ongoing.
The new year, like this past year, will bring with it challenges for workers in our province. Labour will continue to face employers and governments who use the courts and legislation to erode workers’ rights.
We have already seen it happening, as the Higgs government heavy-handedly issued an emergency order during the recent CUPE strike/lockout, forcing the few non-designated essential health care workers back to work. This goes against the Supreme Court ruling that freedom of association, as stated under Section 2 (d) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, includes the right to either strike or have access to fair and independent binding arbitration.
The recent CUPE job action also saw the Higgs government lock-out designated essential school board workers, an unprecedented move.
Many of our working heroes work at poverty level wages and don’t have the same benefits that many of us enjoy, like paid sick days. Changes to existing legislation are needed to improve their working conditions. Our working heroes deserve 10 days of paid sick leave per year and raising minimum wage to ensure that they, and their families, are not living in poverty. Work should lift families out of poverty, not keep them in it.
The New Brunswick Federation of Labour, and its affiliated members, will continue to forge ahead in the New Year. We will continue to stand and defend workers rights. We will continue to work with political parties to make it easier for unorganized workers to join a union. We will continue to demand that organized labour be a stakeholder and that our voices are heard by decision-makers. Finally, the NBFL will hold our governments and elected representatives accountable in 2022 should they decide to continue with their attacks on working people in our province.
The labour movement in New Brunswick remains at a crossroads. Collectively, we have a choice to make. Do we continue to have our standards of living and our working conditions eroded? Or do we continue as several workers did in 2021 and demand to be given our place at the table and to have our voices heard?
It is the New Brunswick Federation of Labour’s New Year’s wish that that all workers in our province stay safe as we continue with the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine and that our communities thrive.
For additional information, please contact
New Brunswick Federation of Labour
(506) 381-8969 (cell)